Franklin County commissioners could make doughnut hole decision soon

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 3, 2013 

Franklin County commissioners could decide Monday whether to send to the ballot the petition to incorporate the "doughnut hole" area as a new city called Riverview.

Or they could delay a decision until a lawsuit is resolved that seeks to overturn Pasco's annexation of part of the area proposed for incorporation.

Commission Chairman Rick Miller said delaying might make sense because the lawsuit still is pending. Commissioners already have postponed the matter three times while everyone waits for an outcome.

"Our attorney tells us we can delay for a 'reasonable time,' " Miller said.

The incorporation petition was submitted to Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton in October, and later that month he verified that enough valid signatures had been submitted that the petition could move along in the process.

The next step was a public hearing by the county commissioners. They had one in December and took some testimony, but ended up delaying further testimony and a decision because of the lawsuit.

The hearing was postponed to Jan. 9, and then for Jan. 23 when commissioners were uncertain where the lawsuit -- and Pasco's annexation on Jan. 1 of enough of the doughnut hole to block incorporation -- left them. State law requires that the new city have at least 3,000 residents, and the annexation pulled about 1,400 of the doughnut hole's 4,000 residents into Pasco.

Commissioners took testimony on Jan. 23, but decided to have a special meeting at 1 p.m. Monday to take up the topic again because the lawsuit remained in a holding pattern. Commissioners meet at the Franklin County Courthouse, 1016 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco.

The commissioners' decision is limited to whether the incorporation petition meets the legal requirements to go to the ballot.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, one person spoke against incorporation. Five people asked commissioners to allow a public vote on incorporation. One person said he thought it was a good idea to postpone any decision until the lawsuit is resolved.

Roger Lenk, one of the leaders of the group proposing incorporation, told commissioners at that meeting that the city was stalling the lawsuit by not filing a document known as a motion for summary judgment that asks a judge to decide a case's merits without sending it to trial.

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the Herald on Friday that it isn't the city's job to make the case move forward.

"They filed the lawsuit and then complain the city isn't resolving it," Crutchfield said. "It's not our suit -- it's theirs. We're not going to prosecute their case for them."

Lenk said in an email to the Herald on Friday that the city said in a Jan. 11 letter that the motion would be filed within two weeks but hasn't done so.

"Our belief is that that intend to slow walk the matter now that they must argue the facts," Lenk said.

As far as the city is concerned, the annexation was done on Jan. 1. Residents within the annexed area -- between Road 52 and Road 68, south of a Franklin County Irrigation District canal -- are paying city utility taxes and getting responses from city police, fire and ambulance services, Crutchfield said.

And starting in 2014 they'll see lower property taxes than they paid when living in an unincorporated part of the county, he said. Property taxes aren't collected in an annexed area until the next year after annexation.

Crutchfield said he hopes the Franklin Fire District 3 commissioners and Franklin County commissioners soon will be willing to enter talks to plan for annexation of the rest of the doughnut hole area into Pasco.

The doughnut hole area generally is south of Argent Road between Road 100 on the west and Road 44 to the east and Sylvester and Court streets to the south, and has been earmarked for future Pasco growth since the '90s.

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